Today I forgot my neighbor’s name. Oh, sure I could give myself an out and say “That’s okay—I haven’t lived here long” but it doesn’t make me feel any better. I see her all the time. Memory is a precious gift. We take it for granted when we are young and laugh about “losing it” as we get older. But what are we without our memories?
Our brain is the largest organ in our body yet it’s the one organ we hear the least about. As a dietitian, it was popular to educate on heart health but never brain health. Which is ironic because our brain in also significantly affected by what we eat. Especially, right around mid-life. That’s when our hormones start to diminish, our brain cells become even more sensitive to what we eat than any other organ in our body. Yikes! We hear that getting a good night’s sleep, exercise and keeping our brain active is important for memory but its rare that we hear the role that good nutrition plays. Thank God, new research is changing that. Finally, people are asking the question…
Can certain foods help keep our memory strong?
A new study published just this last month showed that yes, in fact, our diet plays a major role in brain health. I won’t bore you with the science but basically they found that brain function and speed of processing was 25-83% higher in a group of elderly people that had nutrition, exercise and cognitive intervention¹. This was an important study because it got the “diet” conversation going. Its not that there haven’t been other studies linking food to better cognitive performance it’s just that this is one of the first that shows how a whole diet and lifestyle are linked together for healthy aging.
Here’s also what we know about food.
Blueberries help! About eleven years ago, blueberries gained celebrity status for their ability to improve memory among elderly rats. I was fortunate enough to meet the researcher who was one of the pioneers in this field- the late Dr. James Joseph. Now rats aren’t people of course but finally this year we have human data. What do you think they found? Blueberries improve memory in humans, too².
Leafy greens are important too! Plants like spinach, kale, arugula, cabbage and romaine lettuce may be especially protective because they contain certain antioxidants that concentrate in the brain. There is a theory that our brains essentially “rust” or oxidize over time so it makes sense that eating foods with good sources of the antioxidants like lutein found in dark green leafy vegetables are associated with lower rates of age-related cognitive decline³. They help to stop this “oxidative” process in our brain.
Go nuts! Yep, nuts, mainly walnuts have been shown to help with memory function too⁴. Walnuts are loaded with a healthy fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) along with other important antioxidants. Walnuts are probably one of the healthiest nuts in the world and probably one of the easiest ways to improve your “brain healthy” diet. I like to use them on my oatmeal and salads most days.
What else? Vitamin D deficiency can play a role in brain health along with an increased need for Vitamin B-12 and Omega- 3 fatty acids. So what I recommend is we hedge our bets with a little supplementation too. I take a daily vitamin D supplement with a good multiple vitamin mineral supplement containing vitamin B-12 and an extra supplement of a high quality fish oil too.
So my friends, when you have those days that you feel like you are losing your mind remember that your brain is our most valuable asset. Think twice before you hit that drive through at lunch time. Take the time to give it the nutrients it deserves. Here’s a few recipes that might help. Chicken and Kale Salad , Warm Spinach Salad with Apples and Feta, Triple Berry Tofu Smoothie and Blueberry Almond French Toast Cups.